FILE - Deer hunting

(The Center Square) – Firearm deer hunting season started off strong in 2021, with 50,300 deer killed the first weekend. But the numbers dropped during the second weekend to 21,375 deer.

The 2021 preliminary harvest for the 7-day 2021 Illinois Firearm Deer Season wound up with 71,675 deer reported, compared to 77,160 deer harvested in 2020. The 2020 total was 5,485 more deer killed than there were in 2021.

“We killed some pretty good deer but it wasn’t the greatest. It wasn’t the worst. I’d call it average,” said Jason Johns, a guide with Boneyard Outfitters in Franklin County/

The weather is always a factor in the deer harvest numbers, Johns said.

“The up and down weather hasn’t been real good for us,” Johns said. “When you get 70 degrees and then down to 30 the next day and then back up to 70, that’s not what you want.”

Boneyard Outfitters hosts parties of hunters from all over the country, Johns said. For big trophies, hunting in Illinois rivals deer hunting anywhere in the world, he said.

Last year, COVID-19 travel restrictions hurt his business, Johns said. Thirty hunters canceled. This year COVID-19 travel restrictions were not the factor that they were last year, he said.

“I have some guys that are Staten Island Ferry drivers that come here. Last year they couldn’t come because they would have had to quarantine when they went home. But this year, they could come," he said.

COVID-19 did cause one group of hunters from Maine to cancel, Johns said.

“They got together to have a few beers and were talking about their trip. All of them contracted COVID,” Johns said. “They’re all doing fine, but the whole group tested positive. I was really looking forward to them coming because they were bringing me some fresh lobsters.”

Illinois is unique as a deer hunting destination because anywhere in the state you can kill a big deer, Johns said. As an outfitter, Johns can’t take groups out on public land, but he highly recommends the Shawnee National Forest for spectacular hunting.

“The Shawnee is a great place to kill deer. It’s so vast. When you go down there, you have to put in your time and you better get used to walking,” Johns said. “That’s just part of it down there.”